On its face, the idea of an independent commission drawing Utah’s political boundaries every 10 years is highly appealing. Proposition 4, on this year’s election ballot, attempts to keep politics out of the redistricting process and prevent partisan gerrymandering. We dig a little deeper into this ballot measure that appears to be popular with voters.
What are some of the provisions of Prop 4 that might not be obvious to voters?
Pignanelli: “The devil is in the details. … It makes a great deal of difference.” — Joseph Biden
Out of respect to Better Boundaries Co-Chairmen Ralph Becker and Jeff Wright, I quieted my amusement of this initiative to remove politics from an activity that was political since the birth of our republic. Then I read the proposition.
The proposed Utah Independent Redistricting Commission is comprised of seven commissioners. The governor chooses the chairman and legislative leadership the remaining six commissioners (three cannot have voted in a primary election in the last four years). Commissioners cannot be a former lobbyist, principal of a business that employed a lobbyist, a political candidate or appointed to any public office.
The insults don't end there.
My mother recently completed a three-year tenure on the Holladay City Council. She succeeded in revitalizing the economic vitality of this town, implementing antidiscrimination ordinances to protect citizens and created incredible opportunities for families to enjoy their community. Her incredible capacity for nonpartisan creative solutions could benefit this commission. But the proposition forbids anyone who served in local government four years prior to be appointed a commissioner.
The destructive swath of Proposition 4 goes beyond gerrymandering. The legislation institutionalizes statutory degradation of individuals who vote in primary elections, hire lobbyists to protect their business interests or serve the public in some capacity. I am a weird guy but cannot fathom the bizarre agenda of this political apartheid.
For the sake of sound public policy, good government — and for my mother — Prop 4 must go down.
Webb: It’s impossible to take politics out of an inherently political process. The Prop 4 authors have struggled mightily to do so, and have failed. For example, the proposed law says the commission must not draw boundaries that favor any candidate or political party. The commission cannot use political data such as election results, voting records or party affiliation in drawing boundaries.
But the law also says the commission shall use “measures of partisan symmetry” as it considers redistricting plans. My interpretation (shared by others) of “partisan symmetry” is that if 25 percent of Utahns vote Democratic, then one of four congressional districts ought to be a Democratic district.
But creating a district to specifically favor a Democrat is the very definition of gerrymandering. It is the very definition of drawing boundaries to favor a candidate or political party. And the commission would have to use those banned political data to draw a Democratic district.
Prop 4 is being promoted as taking politics out of the redistricting process. In reality, it is injecting partisanship into the process. If “partisan symmetry” is the standard, then all sorts of weird boundary contortions will occur. For example, a congressional district should be created for an independent candidate. There are a lot more voters who identify as independent than as Democrats.
In the Legislature, a few districts must be carved out for right-wing Constitution Party candidates. And the United Utah Party should be deserving of a handful of legislative seats.
Good luck drawing those boundaries.
Republican leaders argue that Prop 4 is really a Democratic ploy to create a safe congressional district for Democrats. The merits of a safe Democratic district can be debated. But no one should say with a straight face that Prop 4 is about eliminating gerrymandering or partisanship in redistricting.
Will Prop 4 win or lose on Nov. 6?
Pignanelli: There is little formal opposition to the proposition. Further, this well-funded campaign uses children in commercials, subtle insults of politicians and appeals to the inherent fairness of Utahns. Further, 99.99999 percent of those who signed the petition and will vote in this election did not read the strange details contained in the proposition. So it likely passes.
Webb: Prop 4 has great superficial appeal, so it will pass.
If Prop 4 passes, is it likely that the Legislature will repeal it or significantly change it?30 comments on this story
Pignanelli: To their credit, legislators deeply respect the will of the people through initiatives and other such referenda. But knowing Utahns were unaware of the capricious and mischievous elements of Proposition 4, there is a serious possibility to investigate amendments. Rational good government organizations will demand changes and provide political cover for lawmakers. Expect some modifications.
Webb: Prop 4 will never be implemented in its current form. A lot of legislative action and probably litigation is ahead. Even if some sort of commission is created, the politics won’t go away. Political considerations will pervade who is selected for the commission, and will pervade commission deliberations. And then the Legislature may change or outright reject commission redistricting plans. Politics will never be eliminated from this process.